Landscaping Around Swimming Pools

Focus on Privacy, Safety, Beauty, and Convenience, Including Mess-Free Plants

Papyrus plants with yellow lilies in the background.
Stately papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) lends a touch of class and adds no mess to the yard. David Beaulieu

Privacy, safety, beauty, and convenience are some of the considerations to keep in mind when landscaping around swimming pools. While discussing all of these factors below, let's focus on choices for mess-free plants. The best plants to grow near a pool will be those that lend the area a special charm and that cause you little inconvenience.

Plants can provide beauty and -- in the case of shrubs -- privacy around a swimming pool.

They soften the harsh lines of pool equipment and help pools to blend more naturally with the surrounding environment. If you grow plants that are tall enough, they will form privacy screens around the area. But plants must be chosen wisely. Strive for low-maintenance plants. For instance, you do not want large deciduous trees around a swimming pool, as you will end up fishing all of those leaves out of the water. Even needle-bearing evergreen trees can be among the messiest trees. A good alternative is a broadleaf evergreen bush such as Hetz Japanese holly (a type that lacks prickly leaves). Avoid fruit trees: Not only are they messy, but the fruits also attract bees (and stinging bees are not a good match for all of that bare flesh that will be parading around your swimming pool). And as beautiful as flowers are, be aware that they, too, can be bee-magnets, so you are forced to make a decision (it is your call): Is it worth risking a bee sting to have a lovely flower around the pool?

Even worse, plants with invasive root systems can damage a pool over the years, so choose the same kinds of plants that you would for planting around a septic tank (another structure susceptible to root damage).

Short List of Mess-Free Plants

Note that just because a plant appears on the list that follows, that does not mean that you can install it just anywhere near a pool.

Most notably, a couple of plants with thorns are included on the list, simply because they are relatively mess-free (and furnish architectural beauty). But avoid growing thorny plants in areas where you will be walking (for example, spots where you will be entering or exiting from the pool), so that you will not have to worry about getting jabbed by sharp thorns. Instead, grow them on a side of a large pool where human activity is kept at a minimum. They are not suitable for small pools (where space is at a premium).

Growing a mix of foliage plants and flowering plants is smart: That way, when the flowers peter out on one plant, there will still be a plant nearby with great foliage that offers visual interest. If not attracting bees is a priority for you in your pool landscape, then you may wish to stick with foliage plants exclusively. Click the links below to research the listed plants further, to determine whether or not they are cold-hardy enough to grow in your region:

  1. Angelina stonecrop
  2. Lantana
  3. Sky Pencil holly
  4. Geum
  5. Blue fescue grass
  6. Mexican bird of paradise shrub
  7. Agave
  8. Yucca filamentosa
  9. Aloe vera
  10. Autumn Joy sedum
  11. Hardy hibiscus shrub
  12. Purple ice plant
  13. Elephant ears (Colocasia)
  14. Mountain laurel shrub
  1. Papyrus (picture)
  2. Moonshadow euonymus
  3. Zebra grass
  4. Inkberry shrub

Other Components to Install Around Swimming Pools

Fencing around swimming pools is a must when small children are present, for the purpose of safety. The right fence design can also offer you privacy. If you do not like the look of a fence, soften it by training vines to grow over it; the vines will enhance privacy, to boot, on types of fences that do not offer a solid barrier. Another safety feature around pools is outdoor lighting.

Patios or pool decks provide not only beauty, but safety for swimming pool areas. Climbing out of the water, you can be assured of a slip-resistant surface to land on with a scarred concrete patio. If you opt for a brick patio instead, be sure to keep the surface of the bricks rough (you will have to clean moss off the bricks periodically).

For convenience around swimming pools, nothing beats a closed gazebo in which you can change into or out of your clothes and relax in the shade. Outdoor furniture also affords convenience around your swimming pool, as do barbecue equipment and outdoor furnaces. A full outdoor kitchen may be in your sights if you are more upscale. 

And you had better keep some sunscreen in that gazebo.